“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” ~ Leo Tolstoy
You don’t have to be perfect, not even by your own standards, and never mind anyone else’s. It took me a very long time to learn that, and I still frequently forget it. I know I’m not the only one. It’s important to remind ourselves every once in while though.
I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with goals or standards, but the pursuit of perfection, to be attained in the future, can turn into just one more barrier to enjoying the present. Another way to get trapped into seeing periods of our lives as being provisional.
We tell ourselves that we’ll be happy when we’ve just finished some academic or work project. Once we’ve achieved some health and fitness goal, we’ll be satisfied. Once we’ve found the right person, or started a family, we’ll settle down and start getting on with our lives.
Some times we even put the things which will really make us happy – such as looking for a relationship, moving elsewhere, starting a family – on hold until we feel that we’ve reached our goal of perfection.
The problem with this way of thinking is that, because perfection is unattainable, it can allow you to put parts of your life indefinitely on hold. Once you’ve ironed out one perceived flaw in yourself there will always be something else that you notice, and find that you just have to work on, before you can relax and start living your life to the fullest. Happiness will always be around the next corner.
I think this approach is particularly common when it comes to our personal relationships. People often speak of wanting to have their career sorted, or to be financially stable, or to be living just where they want, and then they will devote more time to their family, friends, or finding a partner.
I know there was a period in my life where I decided I shouldn’t date because I was too poor, or because my health wasn’t the greatest, or because my living situation wasn’t ideal.
But what I was basically saying to myself was that I didn’t expect anybody to care about me because I wasn’t good enough yet.
What we are saying to ourselves any time we delay in doing something we want, something that will make us happy, until we have some other area of our lives sorted, is that we don’t feel that we deserve it yet. That we don’t think we should be happy because we aren’t perfect.
But perfection is unattainable.
And apart from those of us who habitually kick dogs, rob little old ladies, and cheat on their tax returns, we all deserve to be happy. We deserve to be happy today.
It’s the journey towards our goal of perfection that makes us who we are. That builds our character. That gives us things to talk about and parts of ourselves to share with other people.
When was the last time you watched a film, or read a book, about someone who’s life went exactly the way they’d wanted it to? You haven’t? Well, there’s a reason for that, their stories aren’t usually very interesting.
If you’re looking for someone to settle down with; or even just making new friends, would you rather be meeting people who talk about how their life has been a succession of ticks put in boxes, or people who’ve had their ups and downs but have interesting stories because of it?
If your answer is the latter then you might want to give yourself a break now and then. Go after the things that will make you happy today and allow yourself to be that compelling person.
Any person or any place that will only accept you when you reach their goal of perfection, will actually never accept you anyway. So you may as well find those who will accept you, while you’re perfectly imperfect, right now.